Thursday, August 02, 2018

The Church Has Two Wings

Store under a spirit of delusion, Bangkok
If our church was a plane, then its two wings would be called "academic" and "experiential." At Redeemer we preach through the biblical texts, verse by verse. I (and others who preach) study like crazy in preparation for preaching. We understand the importance of situating the biblical text in context, so as to understand the meaning of the verses. As Ben Witherington has said, a text without a context is just a pretext for something you want to say.

And, we expect God to move, to do things, as a result of the presentation of the Word. Thus:

  1. Study hard, so as to rightly handle the word of God. 
  2. Expect God to act. 

Academics without experience is dry, vapid theory; experience without academics is heretical.

Experience trumps academics, in order of ontological priority. Experience, not theory, breeds conviction. Augustine's famous "Credo, ut intelligam" ("I believe in order to understand") means, to me: "I experienced something that I think is God; now I study so as to better understand this experience."

  1. God acts.
  2. I study God's actions so as to understand.

This kind of theological approach to the Jesus-life explains the current explosion of African Pentecostal Christianity. Michael Brown observes this in "Is African Charismatic Christianity a Counterfeit?" Brown quotes Daniel Kolenda, Reinhard Bonnke's successor: 

“The Western brand of stale, cold, theoretic and purely cerebral Christianity that Africans have been offered by many of the [Western] evangelical denominations is laughable to them. For Africans, their faith must have real-world consequences or it is worthless.”

See Craig Keener's recent, brilliant Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost. I've got a copy and am slowly, so slowly (because it is so rich) reading through it. Note: read Scripture in light of Pentecost, rather than reading Pentecost in light of Scripture. (In a similar way, read Paul through the Gospels, not the Gospels through Paul.)

Jesus didn't travel around giving lectures on religious theories. Jesus taught on God's Kingdom (the rule, or reign of God), and then demonstrated the reign of God reigns by healing people and delivering people from demons and even raising the dead. At the end of the day this is what I really need. Books may tell me about this, but I need God, not a book. I need the living God to rule in my life in the midst of life's circumstances. 

Theory minus experience is taking a swimming class but  only reading a book called "Theory of Swimming." How weird to "study" swimming from a distance and never get in the pool! Michael Brown writes: 

"Since Africans see the spiritual realm and natural realm as one, and since they don’t need to be convinced about the reality of demonic spirits, if Jesus is really the Savior, then He also saves from sickness and demonic powers."

Have there been Pentecostal abuses? Of course. Not all that is weird is of God. Have their been evangelical abuses? Of course. Some of us were trained in "Robert's Rules of Order," and the application of British Parliamentary Procedure to the conducting of church meetings. How tragic. How stale. And how confining, since the Holy Spirit's name is not "Robert." How abusive.

There is an intrinsic unprogrammability and unpredictability in Spirit-led following that no theory can predict or fully understand.

When the Spirit moves in our church context there are real-world consequences. Were that never so, we'd be left with post-Enlightenment reductionistic theological theories like cessationism, where Jesus reigns over the the earth by giving sermons. That's a plane missing a wing, and explains why the African church is flying and the American church is plummeting.

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am writing...

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Linda and I will co-write our book on Relationships